Spirit, breath, air, wind

When you drive a car all the time, never walking or locomoting in any other way, you notice certain things, but you miss others.  On the other hand, riding on two wheels permits one to notice a different set of things, or at least to notice things differently.  When riding a bicycle or motorcycle, I have sometimes been struck with various differences in terms of sights and sounds.

Air is one of the reasons one rides a motorcycle.  I say things like “I love feeling the air” and “I just wanna catch some air.”  (One riding acquaintance called me a “fellow bug-toothed rebel,” but that’s another story.)  The air may be muggy and stultifying, refreshing, or varied.  On motorcycle rides through rural areas in which various types and extents of vegetation have grown, one notices cool-air spots.

I first noticed the difference in the air back in 2003 while heading out of Atchison, Kansas on 6th Street on my Yamaha 600 Radian.  The southward route becomes Old Rt. 73, also called Sheridan Road, as it works its way toward Leavenworth.  In spots along this road, the air may suddenly drop 10 or 15 degrees. Sheridan-Sherman RdYou look around, and you notice a small farm with a horse or two, a grove, or a meadow through which the prairie wind has rolled and cooled things down for the past few hours.  You might for a short time feel ensconced by trees that have banned the afternoon sun.  The air quality and temperature can vary, and you notice it as it rushes past your face.  (You wouldn’t likely have noticed these things if you were driving a car.)

Air.  Wind.  And breath and spirit.

Typically, when one encounters the English word “spirit” in a New Testament document, the Koiné Greek antecedent is pneuma.  (The Hebrew antecedent for an Old Testament instance is likely ruach.)  This Wikipedia page may mislead (it’s not really airheady but is complicated) at the beginning, but it shows some noun connections.  Not that all these terms are exact synonyms—such precise inter-language relationships rarely if ever exist), mind you—but the words have a high correlation, so the possibility does exist, depending on the context, that several English words—e.g., breath or air or spirit—could be substituted.  It intrigues me that the life-giving air around me could be conceptually related to the very breath that the Spirit of God breathed into the first human.  Maybe I’m too far out on a weak limb here.

[Thinking of limbs reminds me of central Arkansas, where the combination of storms and tree types results in more downed tree branches in people’s yards than anywhere else I’ve lived.  And then I go back to air and wind.  Arkansas air is often the stagnant, hot, horrifically humid kind that doesn’t say “motorcycle ride” to me.  Which is one reason I’m glad to be returning to the rolling hills of eastern Kansas, where those cool-air spots are.  Looking forward to breathing and catching some wind again—maybe, just maybe on another motorcycle.]

Monkish monkey-business revisited

This post won’t be all that well-thought-out.  Maybe entertaining in a spot or two, though?

Several times in this space, I have commented critically on the “Kansas Monks”–those associated with Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.  Although I have a fond feeling for Atchison in general, having spent three important years of my life there and having made some good friends (a few of whom I’ve kept!) I have no fond feelings for monks — these or any other — or what they stand for.

Once, I wrote that I would not write about the “Kansas Monks” ever again on this blog, but I am reneging.  I figure that repeatedly ignored requests that they take me off their fundraising, propagandizing mailing list will be seen to justify at least this one coming-out-of-hiding on my part.

A few months back, I couldn’t resist saving a page out of their most recent magazine.  A sidebar shows pics of six monks (I guess that’s the umbrella term; four are labeled “father,” and another two are called “abbot”), along with blurbs about what each of them does with the internet as part of monkish “ministry.”

  1. A monk named Miller has 4,200 Facebook friends.  Bully for him.  That’s sad, because it probably means he’s got a following of college students who’ve crossed his path and had wool pulled over their eyes.
  2. One named Senecal “gathers prayer requests” via the monks’ website.  Any specific criticism of this one runs a high risk of my impugning his motives, so I’ll merely confess and move on.
  3. The coup?  A monk named Habiger “spreads the news of natural family planning via an e-mail newsletter.”  And what a gospel is that!  And what an (pardon me while I grab my tongue with a forceps and shove it irrevocably into my cheek) amazingly credible witness to a Pope-induced, biblically sound limitation!

In other words, gimmeabreak.  How is a monk going to talk about anything that has to do with sex?  At best, he’s a disingenuous, meddling homiletician with a concocted, a-biblical message he’s passing off, by virtue of his cloth, as biblical.

I have to wonder, further on #3 above, whether the whole Pope-against-contraception thing got started — presumably overtly in about 1930, but whenever — because he and all his henchmen realized that they needed to try to ensure continuous re-population so that they could maintain whatever degree of hold they had on the world.

Cynical? Sad? But maybe true?


For those interested, here are links to a few of the posts that dealt with these monkeys in the past.




Wedding thoughts

It might seem odd that someone who has for years been down on the “sermon” as a method might be found on that very idea’s upside– in miniature, at least — when planning his own wedding.  On the positive side of the ceremonial (ceremonious?) speaking enterprise, I thought I’d list for you the topics of the short talks in our wedding.  Then, Fox-like¹, you can decide if there is any potential application in your church in or other scenaria. . . .

For our wedding in 2004, we asked various Christian friends for short talks on the following topics:

  • living in God’s created world
  • fanning the flame of worship in the home
  • the power of God to change, malleable lives
  • personal devotional life
  • past, present, future
  • communication and friendship
  • nurturing, caring for each other
  • theology of marriage, two becoming one, intimacy
  • sex
  • trusting in the face of difficult circumstances
  • focusing on Jesus through it all, using Pauline exhortations

These short talks were given in that order by Mark, Kent, Denis, Deborah, Gerald (my dad), Allen, Marietta, us, Chris, Monte, and Greg.  Each person was chosen because of relationship and/or how we perceived the ability of the person to speak to the particular topic.

I also want to affirm that worship was a part of our wedding.  Not a liturgical set that constitutes for some what they think of as worship, but God-directed, adoring, reverent communication from scripture and song.  Our friend Clarissa Cox played and sang “I Adore You,” among others, and this song was no merely human love song.

No wedding goes off without a hitch.  (Ha.)  Ours went pretty seamlessly, although it was probably interminably long for the taste of some.  But the real clunker was during the reception in a tea room in Atchison, Kansas:  tornado sirens!  By that time, the wedding was complete, but the noise and concern made for some excitement.  A fair amount of damage was done by tornados that afternoon and evening to farms and structures, but we never heard of lives lost.

We’ve been through quite a lot together in the nearly 8 years of marriage, not to mention the “dating” time before that.  It’s not as though the talks at our wedding have made material difference, but those people are still dear to us, and we have it all on video, so I think we’ll pop the DVD in the player soon and revisit.

As we come to crossroads points, it is always good to have good friends who have something to offer and who care.


¹Fox News claims to be “fair and balanced” and invites its readers and viewers to decide for themselves.  I happen to think they’re more fair than other news shows, but perhaps not more balanced.  I’m not sure I’m either, but if I have to choose, I’ll choose “fair.”

Vianney’s folly (3 of 3)

A central tenet of my iteration of neo-protestantism, as I stand with certain spiritual forbears, involves criticism of the Roman Catholic ekklesiological institution.  This post is the final installment of a three-part series of protests of R.C. institution–specifically of their idea of priesthood.

John Vianney was looked to as a model because of his simple, quiet life of service.  He is said to have become one of the greatest “confessors” ever.  The term “confessor” can pertain to booth-style Roman Catholic confession sessions, or to a special historical role of sufferer recognized by the R.C. institution.  I’m not sure which sense is intended when used in reference to this John.

I learn from the article’s author that “four or five priestly vocations were awakened” in John’s parish in Ars, France.  What makes a vocation priestly?  I’m given no details, but I suspect that if these four or five were listed, I would react in one of two ways to each, in succession:  either the “vocation” is bogus, or it is for all Christians, not just those at certain hierarchical levels in institutions.

Not to downplay the various offenses I felt as I first read this article, but there was a single paragraph that represented the height of either ludicrousness or blasphemy—take your pick.  These words are attributed to John Vianney, when he was “speaking of the Holy Orders” (whatever those are):

Go to confession to the Blessed Virgin, or to an angel; will they absolve you?  No.  Will they give you the Body and Blood of Our Lord?  No.  The Holy Virgin cannot make her Divine Son descend into the Host.  You might have two hundred angels there, but they could not absolve you.  A priest, however simple he may be, can do it.  Oh, how great is a priest!  If he understood himself he would die, not of fear, but of love.  He will not understand the greatness of his office till he is in Heaven.

Simply put, I feel deeply embarrassed for John Vianney and for the writer of this article who perpetuated such nonsense.  The above paragraph is an embarrassment to all who would claim to honor the name of Jesus.

Look critically at the assumption of any continuing function of Mary, the assumption of transubstantiation, the capital letters that erect a façade of hierarchy and mystery, and of course the attempt to imbue the “office of a priest” with significance.  Where is the reality?

Roman Catholics accept that there is some power and authority vested in ordained priests.  I accept no such thing.  The author of this article concludes by asserting that a priest “is a man ordained to continue the Savior’s work of Redemption until the end of time.”  I respond, “We are all to continue His work.  There is no special class of humans recognized by God.” Any attempt to assert a clergy class based on scripture will be in vain.

In a strangely parallel reading (in Jeremy Begbie’s Resounding Truth), just today I noted the celebrated spiritualist composer Olivier Messiaen’s affirmation of “the existence of the truths of the Catholic faith.”  This statement, along with every news-media mention of “The Church” when referring to the Roman Catholic institution—or any other, for that matter—gives me spiritual pain.  The “Catholic faith” must be recognized as a human system, a superimposition on biblical Christianity, and a system gone awry.  Really, every human system goes awry; it’s just that this one has survived so many centuries of scripture-defying presumption that I feel a profound need to criticize it resoundingly.

And so I leave my criticism of the Kansas monks and the brand of religion they stand for.  Good riddance, clergified concepts of priesthood and all monkish ideals.  And may God truly have mercy on all our souls—including yours, you sincere but misguided friends in similar faith.

Long live reforming.

Ontology and ordination (2 of 3)

A central tenet of my iteration of neo-protestantism, as I stand with certain spiritual forbears, involves criticism of the Roman Catholic ekklesiological institution.  This post is the second in a three-part series of protests of R.C. institution–specifically of their idea of priesthood.

The writer of the article (referred to yesterday) proceeds presumptively to describe what he views as an ontological change that occurred after the bishop’s “ordination.”  (Ontological rhetoric deals with the nature of existence and reality.)  The thought is that prior to the laying on of hierarchical hands, nothing special was happening when the priests would practice “celebrating Mass” with the “unconsecrated host” in their hands, but that after ordination, well, then an “ontological change took place,” and the “piece of fried paste became the body, blood, and divinity of Jesus Christ.”  The words “celebrating Mass” are abiblical, and “unconsecrated host” begs a challenge, but I’ll leave those where they are.

I’m not knowledgeable enough to discuss the historical ins and outs of transubstantiation and consubstantiation, but I know a couple of sources for the R.C. idea on this, and I know they’ve overemphasized at least one brief passage and have not handled scripture well in this area at all.  Even if they should happen to be on to something and there’s some level of mysterious ontological change in the bread, it’s presumptuous to think that the mere laying of some robed archbishop’s hands on some other-colored-robed monk means that that monk’s basic nature is changed, and when he touches bread and utters an incantation now, something is existentially different.  It just isn’t so, and I have no qualms about saying that it isn’t.

Moving on … did you know that the current pope proclaimed last year as the Year for Priests?  Talk about an ontological shift … oh, wow, how things are now so radically different for me, now that I know that it was the Year for Priests!  All my reality has been changed.  😉  Anyway, apparently, a guy dubbed “St. John Baptist Mary Vianney” was held up as a model for today’s priests.[1] This John– I’ll call him John instead of using the androgynous “Mary” label he and other R.C. adherents often take as a third or fourth given name — lived during the early 1800s in France and reputedly didn’t have an elevator shaft all full of crayons, or his bright taco combo platter didn’t go all the way up, or something.  John did eventually pass his priest exams and is now the “patron saint” of all priests.

Now, a “patron saint” is supposed to have ongoing powers of intercession—a sort of direct-line to God.  The closest one can get to this silly idea in scripture is in the parable of the “Rich Man and Lazarus,” and interpretation of parables is always a bit elusive.  Anyway, I’ve digressed a couple of times in a single paragraph—forgive me for being spiritually and emotionally antagonized—so I’ll return tomorrow!

Next:  More on John Vianney, non-realities, and the priest’s (non-)office

[1] My flippant use of the word “guy” here is intended to refer to the personage on the proper level.  He was, after all and in essence, just another guy like me.

A central tenet of neo-protestantism (1 of 3)

I don’t want to make any single group—my own or any other—the solitary butt of this blog’s criticisms.  Neither do I want to shy away, though, from what will continue to be a central tenet of my iteration of neo-protestantism:  criticism of the Roman Catholic ekklesiological institution.

As regular readers know, I’ve periodically poked at the presumptions and assumptions in letters of appeal I’ve received in the mail from the Benedictine Monks of Atchison, Kansas—where I once lived, delightedly, for three years.  (Delighted by Kansas, not by the monks or by the abbey, mind you.)  A couple of months ago, though, I did finally take the step of writing congenially to the abbot, politely sending him excerpts  of my own writings (some from here, for example) in exchange for all the unrequested ones I’d received from the guys at the abbey, and to request that I be taken off their mailing list.  In the words of F. Flintstone, perhaps not a more spiritually astute personage, but one whose memorable words out of another pile of rubble[1] apply here, yeahbut, abbot! do take me off the mailing list. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.  If that escaped you, just say the words in bold aloud.)

About a month ago, I received an entire magazine published by these Kansas monks.  Within the pages was a feature on the meaning of priesthood, as understood by the author, a monk.  This blogpost will decry the content of that article.  I intend to pull no punches, finding spiritual and logical fault with the RC idea of “priesthood”—its underpinnings, its overarching concepts, and everything between.  I intend to take R.C. criticism to a new level, and then I resolve not to write about the Kansas monks here ever again.  Deal?

The article begins with two brief accounts of two different archbishops and their having laid hands on the heads of eight young monks, “ordaining them as priests.”  Right out of the starting gate, I bristled.  From the presumptuous idea of the spiritual office of archbishop to the syrupy veneer (to mix a metaphor) on the idea of “young monks” to the assumption that a hierarchical laying on of hands somehow conveys spiritual power or authority—all this repels me like an opposing-charge magnet.  An arch- anything strikes me as evil, egomaniacal, or at least arrogantly aggrandized.  I’m already fired up, and the meat of this article is several paragraphs hence.

In the second paragraph, another presumption appears:  that R.C. bishops[2] of this day bear some resemblance to bishops of the first century, and that there has been a succession of miraculous power-bequests at the hands of bishops.  I’ll ignore the lack of attempt to connect “archbishop” in one paragraph with “bishop” in the next; there’s no attempt here to justify an extrabiblical hierarchy.

Tomorrow:  ordination and ontology

[1] This is a feeble play on the ex cathedra notion—the ridiculous presumption that the Pope is infallible when he speaks “out of the chair (Latin: cathedra) of Peter.” I can see Benedict now:  “Hum dee-dum-dum-dum dum … I’m walking from the kitchen to the chair … hum dee-dum … a minute ago I spoke of corn flakes and coffee; now I’m infallible….”

[2] Here I’ll assume that the writer of this article had some knowledge of the etymology of “bishop,” i.e., that it does stem from the biblical word episkopos and that there is some biblical precedent for “bishoping,” albeit not like Christendom tends to think of it today, in our more globalized society.

OSB at it again

The Oblates of St. Benedict are at it again. Just like NPR and PBS fund-raising pledge drives, these appeal letters seem to come every couple of months instead of twice a year (as the broadcasters claim, at least). Sadly, this particular fund-raising letter doesn’t provide nearly as much fodder for critique as the prior two communiqués from these meddling monkish ones (commentary here and here).

I’ll refer just to three items from this letter:

  1. The opening line refers to St. Benedict’s “Holy Rule” and uses the reference “RB Pro: 44.” Do the OSB guys have any idea that I have no idea what those things are? I suppose those who’ve hung around the abbey for years or are students of Roman Catholic documents and history might know, but I suspect many Roman believers are in the dark on this, as well, since I’ve found many of them to be in the dark about more things than most others in Christendom.
  2. The mention of a “Lenten appeal” leaves me high and dry on more than one front. I consider myself moderately well versed in general Christian thought, and well above average (although nowhere near where I’d like to be) in terms of scriptural knowledge. But I have no idea where “Lenten” comes from, or why it might, or might not, be a good time for an appeal, or what the real connection might be. OK, OK, I know “Lenten” is “Lent” and has something to do with the present Easter season. I know people “give things up for Lent” (for the record, I’ve heard more people mocking the idea of giving things up than actually giving things up … you?). But I have no idea where the tradition or the verbiage comes from. I know it’s not an idea that comes directly from New Covenant writings; therefore, I’m really not that interested in pursuing this superimposed complication to the Christian life. I’m not saying anything about the hearts of those who put ash-dots on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday. I’m only saying I’m not personally interested.
  3. Finally (oh, how I wish this were the final mention of these . . . I wish all such structures and titles and misguided religious notions would pass away), the very idea of monks. This appeal letter apparently hopes that its readers will be influenced to contribute to the Abbey in order to support, among other things, the “training of young monks.” No, no, no . . . a thousand times, no.